The Ninth Step of William Beebe – A Cautionary Tale

By Jerry F. 

William Beebe, a real estate agent and massage therapist in Las Vegas, was in and out of alcohol rehab centers in the early 1990s. In 1993 he came into AA where he got sober and stayed that way. In September 2005, Beebe wrote a letter to Liz Seccuro in which he acknowledged his guilt and shame at having raped her. Seccuro, then age 39 and living in Connecticut, says she didn’t even need to open it when she saw Beebe’s name on the envelope. She guessed that it must be an apology for a sexual encounter that had occurred in 1984 during a fraternity party when she and Beebe were attending the University of Virginia.

There were a number of email exchanges between the two and Beebe expressed remorse in all of them. However, he usually blamed his action on his alcoholism, so that Seccuro felt Beebe was apologizing, but at the same time excusing his actions. In some of the emails, Seccuro expressed her outrage at Beebe for the rape while other emails were not exactly friendly, but certainly less bitter and accusative.

In early December, Liz Seccuro called The Charlottesville, Virginia Police Department. She told the chief about the rape and about having reported it to the university deans and the university police at the time it occurred. She explained about the emails she was now getting and how she felt she might now need protection.

When the Charlottesville Police Department met with officials of the University of Virginia, they received different versions of the event. They were told that the university investigated the allegations thoroughly, and that the final decision to press charges was left up to the student, Seccuro, and that she declined to do so. Police were also informed that William Beebe met with the dean of students a few days following the accusation and that Beebe then resigned. As for the crime itself, Seccuro remembers very little. She was drunk at the frat house and passed out several times. She has a vague recollection of being led upstairs into a bedroom. Beebe says that the sexual act was very brief with neither one of them removing any clothing.

In January, 2006, Beebe was charged with rape and object sexual penetration, and faced life in prison if convicted. After his arrest he claimed that the sex was consensual. However, in one of the many emails, Beebe wrote:

… I want to make clear that I’m not intentionally minimizing the fact of having raped you. I did. And I understand how our now differing accounts have evoked an angry conflict within you…. It seems no matter what I say, you are dissatisfied that I am all about the business of accountability and taking full responsibility as I can for having raped you.

The prosecution argued that, as bad as the original offense had been, Beebe’s apology was selfish and that it had traumatized Seccuro all over again. Seccuro testified that Beebe’s decision to contact her, caused her to have two miscarriages and frequent panic attacks. She also endured harsh criticism from people who disagreed with her decision to press charges. In November, 2006, Beebe took a plea deal after investigators determined that Seccuro was sexually attacked by more than one person on the night in question. Seccuro had written to Beebe that she felt there was more than one attacker. Was it true? Beebe replied that he was the only rapist, but it was Beebe’s defense team that uncovered the two other assailants.

In March, 2007, Beebe was sentenced to 18 months in prison and 500 hours of community service related to sexual assault and alcohol abuse on college campuses. A 7 1/2 year prison sentence was suspended provided that Beebe performed his community service. The Charlottesville judge that imposed the sentence seemed torn between the horrific act that Beebe had performed and the fact that Beebe had gone on to be “a leader in the recovery community.”

Phoebe Fliakos, a Charlottesville trauma and substance abuse couselor said, “this is really complex territory. Making amends for a felony that can carry jail time seems to me to be outside the scope of AA. He should have been getting outside counsel.” And, “if he relied on just one rape victim for advice, he may not have understood the profound effect his re-entry into Seccuro’s life could have.” Beebe had previously stated that he had sought counsel from his AA sponsor.

At least ten character witnesses testified in court that Beebe was a “good man”, and that he had helped many of them overcome their own addictions. Beebe had been sober for 13 years at that time.

Beebe was released after serving only five months of his sentence. Seccuro was appalled that his punishment was so light, but she has more resentment for the University of Virginia and the way they handled the affair than she does for Beebe. The investigation into her rape remains open as evidence suggests that two more men may have been involved; that is, two men may have raped Seccuro that night before Beebe did so.

Beebe’s first sponsor advised Beebe against approaching Seccuro. Beebe spoke with various other AA members for several years and they, too, discouraged Beebe from making contact with Seccuro. Beebe’s first sponsor relapsed and told Beebe that he had done so as a result of having performed an inadequate 8th and 9th step. Beebe’s new sponsor encouraged Beebe to find Seccuro and make amends.

The Beebe/Seccuro case made national news, receiving coverage from The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Fix, The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, NBC News, The Daily Beast, USA Today, and People Magazine. Seccuro went on to write a book which describes the crime, the communications with Beebe, and the trial. She is highly critical of the University of Virginia, and she has been a guest speaker at numerous events.

Consider the fate of Jamie Kellam Letson who confessed that she killed her college friend with two bullets to the head 30 years earlier. Letson’s sponsor guided her to write a letter to her dead friend and then drove her to the cemetery to read it. That was before the sponsor turned her in and used the letter as evidence. Or Bob Ryder’s AA confession that he had a dead body in his basement that was starting to smell? His sponsor suggested pouring baking soda on the decomposing woman before turning him into authorities two weeks later.

And such confessions of guilt are not limited to the hallowed halls of AA. Back in 1998, more than 200 members of the online support group, Moderation Management, were witness to the online drunken confession of Larry Froisted who admitted to being “wickedly” drunk, purposely setting his house on fire and killing his five year-old daughter, Amanda. Of the 200, only three reported the confession to police. Froisted was later arrested and convicted of his crime. Crimes committed while drinking and drugging are still crimes, not merely collateral damage from a substance abusing past. And that may be where the confusion lies for the newly sober. Many experts suggest caution and discretion before disclosing information in an AA meeting or to a sponsor.

“Theoretically, everything that is said in an AA meeting is supposed to be kept confidential by all the other attendees, so there would have to be a breach of the AA code if law enforcement is contacted to report a confession,” says Carole Lieberman, MD, Beverly Hills forensic psychiatrist. “Nonetheless, if an alcoholic patient of mine, who was attending AA meetings, asked if he should confess to a crime at an AA meeting, I would certainly counsel him against it.”

Additionally, Lieberman says she would explore with her patient why he wanted to do so. “Was he feeling guilty about his crime and trying to sabotage himself, so that someone would report it and he would be punished?” she says. “Obviously, this would be a self-destructive means of repenting or making amends. If he committed a serious crime, and wanted to turn himself in, then the best way to do so would be to contact law enforcement in the company of one’s attorney.”

Especially in an era of social media and cell phones, caution is advised when discussing things with participants, according to SAMSHA’s Clark. “Sometimes someone can be almost tricked into disclosing, and you don’t know the motives of your sponsor,” he says. “There is no ethical surveillance…you need to give pause before disclosing.”

The problem for the newly sober is poor cognitive discernment and according to Dix, NY LCSW Richard Buckman, who has been in recovery for many years, “What happens in early recovery is that you say things you shouldn’t say,” he says. “That’s why sponsorship is encouraged.” According to Buckman, when someone confesses to a crime, members of the group could help them see how to do the right thing. “I know stories of people who have gotten sober and in an effort to live life fully, they turn themselves into authorities.”

So how do 12-step groups build trust under the shadow of possible arrest after a Step Five confession?

“A huge component is trust and feeling safe talking about what they have done,” says Faye S. Taxman, PhD, a university professor in the Criminology, Law and Society Department at George Mason University and director of the Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence at the Washington, DC university. “If it results in negative consequences, they will feel suspicious…If arrests become more prevalent it undermines communities for self-help.”

AA was founded on spiritual principles of anonymity and disclosure. Interestingly however, AA literature defines anonymity at the personal level: anonymity provides protection for all members from identification as alcoholics. The “Understanding Anonymity” pamphlet never mentions safety from disclosure of a crime.

Beebe is a cautionary tale. Did he do the right thing on his 9th step? Was it right for him and for Liz Seccuro? Was society well served? And finally, as a sponsor, would you and should you advise your sponsee to do as Beebe did? Beebe didn’t out himself by accident. He shopped for a sponsor that would advise him to contact Seccuro. Neither the sponsor nor Beebe seemed to have given any thought to how devastating this would be to Seccuro. Seccurro suffered because of the rape and again through the letters and emails sent to her by Beebe and again at the trial of Beebe. And, this being America, Seccurro wrote a book that sold well and she has been on talk shows and the speaker circuit for years.

When last heard from, William Beebe was living in Chesterfield, Virginia. He is no longer on parole. He is a registered sex offender and is unemployed


About the Author, Jerry F.

Jerry F. is one of the founding members of We Agnostics in Tempe, AZ and was the instigator of theWAAFT-AZ Convention last November in Phoenix. He has served in many positions in his 27 years in AA and is currently treasurer of his traditional AA group, coffeemaker of his secular group, and is beginning a term as a board member of WAAFT-IAAC. He considers his greatest achievement as being responsible for a change to the Fourth Edition of the Big Book and his greatest asset as being relentlessly anal.

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  1. Andrew L November 21, 2016 at 12:06 pm - Reply

    I suppose one function of a drunks-helping-drunks community can be to provide a forum for advice of a CYA nature. People might want to be aware that discussing your past crimes, especially with their victims, could result in law enforcement or civil actions. Since it’s to be expected that many, or most, people in the recovery community have some broken some laws in their wake, maybe that’s a good counterpoint to the parallel instruction that we’ve got to spill our guts if we’re going to stay sober.

    One of the normative principles of the 12 step movement is non-judgment. Instead of receiving confessions with shaming disapproval, we are invited to hear them with empathy, considering whether our own impulses might have led us to similar actions. But that’s easier to do with some conduct rather than others. And some ex-drunks are better prepared to serve as a criminal confessor than others.

    And sometimes, making amends to criminal victims and to society means serving criminal penalties.

  2. Hannah July 27, 2016 at 3:17 pm - Reply

    This is why AA absolutely terrifies me. You – and many of the commenters – are far more bothered about the fact that an ‘unwise’ share left Beebe on the register and unemployed than you are about the fact that the man got 5 months for participating in gang rape.

    5 months. 5 pathetic freaking months for ruining another person’s life.

    On the other hand, it’s good to know the priorities of AA.

  3. Sophie P April 25, 2016 at 4:33 pm - Reply

    He confesses to a crime, in writing, and is partly let off the hook because he is now a leader in AA. Finding his former victim after 20 years is also stalker behavior, and retraumatizing her violates Step 9’s exception: ” when to do so (make amends) would injure them or others”.

    12 steppers are NOT above the law. That man should be in prison. These “amends” are done on the perpetrators’ timeline, when they feel ready. What makes them think people even want the apology?

    • matthew d November 17, 2016 at 3:23 am Reply

      ….it SAYS “made direct amends”, not “made direct apologies”….”amends” and “apologies” are NOT  synonyms…..”amends” is NOT the plural of “amend”…..there is NO such word as “amend” in the dictionary…..therefore one CANNOT “make AN amend”…..make amends” MEANS “make restitution” “make reparation”, “pay compensation”…..

  4. John S April 10, 2016 at 8:49 pm - Reply

    Step Nine is one that needs to be done with great concern for the person to whom we are making amends. I think we also need to be very clear as to what we are doing here. In my opinion it’s about clearing my conscience by becoming accountable for my actions.

    One of the most important amends that I made was to my former employer who fired me because of my drinking but only after offering numerous opportunities for me to get help. I refused every offer of help, insisting that I didn’t have a problem.

    A couple of years after leaving them, I got a job downtown and I knew that I would be running into my old manager on a regular basis, and I needed to be able to look him in the eyes when we passed each other. I went to his office and I can’t remember what I said, but I thanked him for the opportunities he extended me for help and I told him that they were right, I did have a problem, but I am sober now, and that losing my job was the key thing that woke me up.

    He was very happy for me and from then on, we would see each other on the street, smile and say hello.

  5. John L. April 10, 2016 at 7:50 pm - Reply

    A very thorough, useful, and harrowing story.  The Steps can be harmful and even dangerous.  I have known AA members who went to prison because of things they unwisely “shared” at meetings or with sponsors or, in one case, with a therapist.  Some things are best kept secret, and the only sure way to keep a secret is to tell nobody — nobody at all.  Of course, some amends should be made: legitimate debts, for example.  Even taking a 4th Step can be hazardous if the other person is indiscreet.  One doesn’t want everyone to know about one’s most private “character defects”.

  6. Laurie A April 10, 2016 at 2:33 pm - Reply

    There can only be one consideration which should qualify our desire for a complete disclosure of the damage we have done. That will arise in the occasional situation where to make a full revelation would seriously harm the one to whom we are making amends.’ (Bill’s essay on Step Nine in the 12+12). That would seem to apply in the Beebe/Seccuro case. When drunk I told a woman she would never get a boy friend because she was crippled with arthritis. She is on my Step Eight list but it would be doubly cruel to seek her out and rake up the past just to get me off the hook. In his Step Nine essay Bill wrote, ‘There is no pat answer which can fit all dilemmas.’ The Big Book says, ‘reparations take innumerable forms’, and ‘we wish to lay down no rule of any sort’. People forget that the Steps are useful suggestions open to interpretation according to each situation, not set in stone laws covering every eventuality.

    • bob k April 10, 2016 at 7:14 pm Reply

      Well said, sir. Wisdom never surprises me when it emanates from your direction.

      • bob k April 10, 2016 at 7:15 pm Reply

        Calling you sir makes me feel younger, sir.

  7. Skip D. April 10, 2016 at 12:31 pm - Reply

    Excellent article about a neglected topic. As a sponsor, a trusted advisor or recovering friend, I simply don’t hear 5th steps. I’m not qualified, and it’s not something I need to do to stay sober.

     

  8. Doris A April 10, 2016 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    Well written, well researched.  Thanks for the good read, and thought provoking topic.

  9. life-j April 10, 2016 at 11:40 am - Reply

    Jerry, well done.

    Aside from the legal risks here I think there is good reason to caution against making amends too soon. I had no great skeletons in my closet. The worst I have done is a couple of times hitting someone, and while drawing blood, causing no serious bodily harm. Still I’m aware that in a litigious society this could cause great trouble in the hands of the wrong person, while the facts of the case may have been that the other person might have been more at fault in the matters leading to the resulting altercation. Don’t remember the details clearly, and wouldn’t want to discuss them if I did.

    I was much more a small-time asshole, the kind who commits a thousand small acts of unkindness rather than any big acts of wrongdoing, ok, along with a bunch of small acts of wrongdoing, but nothing big, bordering on the criminal.

    The kind of stuff which is bound to make a person feel guilty once confronted with it in a 4th step, and which will likely make a person look for relief. And relief in the bottle was not acceptable to me, so I sought relief through a 9th step.

    The idea with the 9th step the way I understand it is that it is meant to make the world an overall better place after it’s been done. If this criterion is not met, it should not be done. I, in this case was just looking to relieve my guilt by making amends to my ex. Not only was I too newly sober to stick to my side of the street, but my guilt-relief was obvious. And while it was the better part of a decade since we had been together and my presence in her life by and large had only caused disruption to a life which was not very well lived in the first place, but certainly would have been better lived without me, she appeared to have moved on in a fashion, and let things go. I think my amends only made the whole thing turn into bitterness for her.

    Contrary to what Pat says above, I think God is the very best to tell amends to. There’s no one listening, no one to spread gossip, no one to retaliate.

    But seriously now, I have on a few occasions used the tool of writing an amends letter to someone, whether living or dead, and put it in the mail box with nothing more than the person’s name on it. I got to process my thoughts and feelings around it, and it allowed me to move on.

    I realize I owe the USPS amends for cluttering their mail box. Maybe I will write them a letter…..

  10. Norm R April 10, 2016 at 11:09 am - Reply

    Joe C, … Such a good reminder, “to live and act within my limits”.  And Wisdom to recognize what those limits are.   Thank you.

  11. steve b April 10, 2016 at 10:01 am - Reply

    I believe that the scientific literature shows little evidence that AA works, and I’ve never come across much evidence that the steps–much less any single step, such as the 9th–are necessary for sobriety. If it’s not needed, then why risk getting in trouble by taking it?

  12. Pat N. April 10, 2016 at 9:49 am - Reply

    Good, thought-provoking article. I think it illustrates what’s wrong with the 12 Steps as a guide to personal transformation. Here’s Bill W., 4-5 years sober, stating his OPINIONS about how to get sober, in Calvinist religious terms, and saying we need to confess, albeit with caution about harming victims. This has evolved, in the minds of a majority (I think) of AA members believing you MUST take the advice/command of sponsors about how to live your life, or get drunk and die.

    These sponsors, at least in theory, are more sober than the recoveree, and indeed probably have some practical ideas about avoiding the first drink. They also may provide some of the one-to-one acceptance and love the sufferer needs. They may have altruistic motives in advising their sponsees, but generally have no  qualifications to serve as counselors/attorneys/physicians. Then the newbie is told by many in AA that she/he must listen to this amateur on how to deal with really important, soul-level issues which may entail basic physical and mental health or possible incarceration, or get drunk and  die. And all this coercion is with the approval of “God”. Of course there will be many tragedies.

    I know many AAers who have had positive experiences with their sponsors. I’ve also heard  horror stories like Beebe’s. I’ve never had a traditional sponsor, but have had tons of good advice and good example from sober friends in AA, so I don’t drink anymore (36 years). There’s nothing magical nor infallible about these archaic Steps-we need to take responsibility for developing our own plan to health and happiness.

    I will never tell some of my past misdeeds to an imaginary god-that’s a waste of time. Even more certainly, I will not tell  them to another person, and that’s my choice. It doesn’t seem to be relevant to my sobriety, and could be disastrous, as this tale demonstrates.

    • Michael S April 21, 2016 at 4:50 pm Reply

      Well said, Pat. And of course those who do choose to pursue the steps should observe caution and perhaps the very dogmatic, rigid interpretations of them some folks call for. A local member, sober 20 years, was agonizing over the money he stole back then from his two drug-dealer partners in crime. Was attempting to find them so that he could re-imburse them for ripping off their share of the drug sale proceeds! A 20-year long guilt trip over this…. Gosh, I’m glad he told me so I could talk him out of that!

    • Rich April 10, 2016 at 10:35 am Reply

      Pat hit it right on the nailhead . Well done .

  13. Thomas B April 10, 2016 at 9:32 am - Reply

    Excellent essay, Jerry — thanks . . .

    A cautionary tale indeed, especially for those of us who live in litigious and self-confessional North America. What strikes me is that neither William, nor the sponsors with whom he sought mentorship, read the caveat or paid attention to it regarding Step 9, “except when to do so would injure them or others.”

    I also strongly resonate with Joe C.’s comment that all any member of AA has to legitimately share is their “experience” rather than any expertise on any subject matter — I have sometimes been guilty of sharing opinionated advice about areas outside my actual experience. Thanks, Joe, for the reminder that I only have legitimate experience to share.

    It’s been my experience that sometimes sponsors in AA take a hierarchical position of do what I say because I am an expert instead of do what I have experienced. In AA we all meet as equal peers who are gifted with recovery a day at a time.

  14. Joe C April 10, 2016 at 8:42 am - Reply

    Jerry, thank you for this well researched, balanced and sober look at truth and consequences and 12-Step recovery. As with most of us in our community, I get a visceral reaction to more than one aspect of this story. There is my own victimhood and misdeeds that I’ve cast upon others. And there is my own trial and error experienced of working with others. There are many a glib comment I’ve made in the rooms (often including the words never or always) that while well-meaning, were not very thoughtful.

    One example was in a discussion about Step Four, our written personal inventory. I remember that a lot of people had a lot to say about the topic before it was my turn to speak and for whatever reason I said that, “This is an important phase in our development and while timing is delicate, I’ve never heard anyone say that they ventured into this Step, too soon.” I guess I was cautioning against excessive procrastination.

    My big mistake was I wasn’t sharing personal experience, I was advice ( or opinion) giving. Sure enough, another member expressed her first hand experience of delving in too deep and too soon, becoming traumatized, relapsing and nearly losing her life. Did I feel bad? I sure did. What was I thinking, treating an AA meeting as a place to impart my advice; how often had I did it before? That was one of many reminders I’ve gotten that experience, not expertise is all I have to offer at meetings. We are peers/equals and maybe my experience is wisdom and maybe it is not. I’d rather not broadcast it as such. Today’s post reminds me that we are not professionals and while our aim to serve others may be well intentioned, I for one will try to remember to live and act within my limits.

  15. Tommy H April 10, 2016 at 8:06 am - Reply

    The best account of this I’ve seen.

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